Carolina: Cruising Past 70

Friday, May 7, 2021

Almost Back to Normal: Revisiting Arizona’s Best Landmarks

Spring is the favorite season of most people. And you should see it in the desert: 
10 Reasons to See the Desert in Bloom. That is why I always plan to be home this time of the year when the paloverde trees, both kinds, bloom and change their entire crown from green to yellow. I love it because it is not the yellow of fall which signals the falling of the leaves. It symbolizes the reverse: rebirth and renewal.

It is more so in the spring of 2021. Not only have the cases of coronavirus dramatically fallen such that life has almost returned to normal for us who have been fully vaccinated. Because of that, Bill’s elder sister and her husband were finally able to visit us. And because of their visit, we were able to revisit the significant landmarks of our state in Tucson, Phoenix, and Sedona, and the majesty of the Grand Canyon National Park.


Being an engineer, we didn’t want Bill’s brother-in-law to miss what is known as Biosphere 2. It is the one and only place that fosters five different habitats (desert, savannah, mangrove, ocean, and rainforest) under one huge glass pyramid-like structure, mimicking Biosphere 1, the Earth. It was where eight Biospherians lived for two years, conducting major scientific studies that benefitted all of us.

Today, Biosphere 2 is managed by the University of Arizona which has added the Land Evolution Observatory, the world’s largest laboratory experiment in the interdisciplinary Earth sciences. It was too bad that, because of Covid, the major interests of Bill's brother-in-law (the apartments where the Biospherians lived and the Lung which controlled the environmental conditions of the habitats) were closed to visitors.  

It turned out that we did not have to show them the Saguaro National Park because everywhere they saw all the saguaros that were already beginning to bloom (the Arizona state flower is the saguaro blossom). But we did run out of time visiting the two missions we had planned on showing them: Mission San Juan del Bac, the oldest continuing mission with the most beautiful Spanish architecture in the country and the Tumacacori National Historical Park, the very first mission ever founded by the Spanish Anza.


East of Phoenix is the 40-mile trail that Apaches used to navigate the Superstition Mountains, the Apache Trail.  At its entrance stands the 15-acre land where the Old Old West movies were filmed. It includes the Superstition Mountain Museum, Apacheland Movie Ranch Museum, and the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel. At almost the end of the trail is Tortilla Flat, the last stagecoach stop and now a town of 6 with a small post office, a country store that sells prickly pear ice cream, a restaurant with not-to-miss restrooms and $1 bills glued all over its walls, and a general store. We also took the Desert Belle Cruise on nearby Saguaro Lake after lunch at Shiprock Restaurant that is perched on an overlook of the lake.

On another day, we were supposed to tour them around the Desert Botanical Garden that showcases the treasures of the plant kingdom in the desert. But it was closed because of a private event so instead, we took them to the three architectural landmarks of Phoenix. First was Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and desert laboratory (Taliesin East, his summer home, is in Spring Green, Wisconsin).  Another famous name, the chewing gum magnate, also had a Wrigley Mansion built for his wife in Phoenix. He has three other such mansions in Chicago, Catalina Island, and Geneva. It is now an upscale fine dining restaurant. The third was Tovrea Castle, the castle designed as a wedding cake that glows at night as the Sonora Desert icon. Its waiting list is six months long.


And then we took them to the lovely city of Sedona, just two hours away. I have always remarked that the place should have been designated a national park were it not for the fact that 10,000 have already settled there. We stayed at the Los Abrigados Resort & Spa which has a pretty good restaurant on the premises (Spoke and Wheel with bicycles hanging all around) and sits right beside the Tlaquepaque, a beautiful pedestrian mall. For other meals, however, we chose restaurants that had views of the rocks like Creekside, Cowboy Club, and Open Range Grill and Tavern.

The Airport Overlook is one of the best places to have an aerial view of the red rock formations all together in one shot. But Bill’s sister loved best the Chapel of the Holy Cross (headline photo) best. It is built into the red rocks with views of many formations including the best three: Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, and the most photographed of them all, Cathedral Rock. There are many more red rock formations: Snoopy, Coffeepot, Lucy, Chimney Rock, Steamboat, etc. But Sedona is not only famous for its red rocks but also for its mystical hiking trails and vortex experiences.

Grand Canyon National Park

But the couple came most especially for the Grand Canyon National Park. So on the sunniest day of our stay in Sedona, we drove to the South and East Rims, only two hours away. Luckily, because we were looking for a place to have lunch first, we were led to the Grand Canyon Village where the best lodging places and restaurants in the national park are located. We spotted Bright Angel Lodge but the lodge’s restaurant had a wait of two hours. It was good there was a place just behind the lodge called Fountain where adult lunch boxes of sandwiches, chips, and soda could be obtained.

And that’s where we found the beautiful section of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim that is part of the Bright Angel Trail that leads to the Colorado River down below with a campground, the Phantom Ranch, and several great stops for rest along the wat. We didn’t brave that and just explored the part of the trail immediately behind the Lodge. It included a few points of interest: the historic Buckeye’s Cabin, the Lookout Studio, and an Art Studio. There were also gift shops where we were able to buy our souvenir items.

Then we went to the East Rim via the section of the spectacular Desert View Drive that connects the South to the East Rim. There were about six vista points to view the Grand Canyon along the 20-minute drive.  We stopped at the Lipan Point, Mile Marker 263.5, just before reaching the East Rim. This section of the canyon includes the longest view of the Colorado River including a powerful whitewater rapid. 

We were lucky because we never had to walk a lot, like what you have to do from the parking lots of the Grand Canyon Visitor Center (still closed as of this writing) to the famous Mather Point of the South Rim or the Desert View Watchtower on the East Rim. It will take a few more visits before Bill and I can complete our exploration of the Grand Canyon. I have yet to see the North and West Rims; Bill just the West.

This visit allowed us to show Bill’s sister and her husband the best Arizona has to offer. And we feel blessed that we were able to do it during the best season, springtime in the desert, and when we are almost back to normal.